Archive for the ‘Severn Valley Railway’ Category

Three days in Severn

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

LMS Ivatt 2-6-0 43106 and GWR 2-6-2T 4566 at Bewdley, SVR, March 2010. Photo KJEvans.

(Click image to expand. Click here to see original and for conditions of licensing on Wikipedia.)

A last minute change of plans, and an invite from some friends who also visit Wolsztyn, gave me the opportunity to visit the Severn Valley Railway for its steam gala weekend. I’d not been to a UK gala for many years, so comparing it with the annual parade in Wolsztyn was interesting.

For those not familiar with the Severn Valley Railway, the 16-mile heritage line, is one of the best established in the UK. With a connection to the national network at Kidderminster, the line meanders up the scenic valley of the River Severn to Bridgnorth, the line’s northern terminus. Following closure of the line in 1963, it was reopened by preservationists in 1970 (between Bridgnorth and Hampton Loade) and eventually extended to Kidderminster in 1984.

Arriving on the Friday evening, I had chosen to camp at the Unicorn Inn, adjacent to Hampton Loade station. The campsite backs on to the river, and the pub handles the bookings (as well as serving very refreshing beer.)

Throughout the gala weekend, train services were scheduled continuously, including throughout the night, the clanking of buffers and the sharp bark of the exhaust easily heard from under the canvas.

With visiting engines complementing the SVR’s home fleet, a good selection of motive power was on offer, with locos rostered for turns for several hours at a time before servicing.

Like Wolsztyn, the Severn Valley draws the crowds for its gala. Unlike Wolsztyn, the crowds have to pay for the privilege. It is a small price to pay for preserving the heritage, and Polish operations could do with learning from it (although it is pleasing to hear that the recent gala day at Jaworzyna attracted about 6000 paying guests.)

The SVR is far stricter on access to shed areas than Poland. No free run of the shed back in the UK, and certainly no wandering off up the line to get that lineside shot unless you hold a trackside permit. It is a balance. In some respects, the health and safety legislation has made it necessary to stop people wandering around the shed (I remember doing it as a 12 year old), but at the same time, it does mean that you do have a chance to see the locos without hoards of people around them, something that is impossible at Wolsztyn during the parade day.

Sitting on the train on the Sunday afternoon, I had time to reflect. What can Poland learn from all this? The UK has a well established steam heritage movement, and societies co-operate and support one another well. People will pay to see steam, and travel behind it, and the money is brought into the local economy. Additionally, the SVR has invested heavily in storing its locomotive collection and carriages under cover.

The Engine House at Highley is a superb example of thinking big. Whilst not in the architectural style of the railway, it keeps the locos that are not currently “in ticket” protected from the elements, whilst providing an informative visitor centre complete with an income stream from refreshments and souvenirs. It is a stark contrast to Poland where engines stand outdoors rusting away, waiting for their next overhaul.

Poland does have a grass roots preservation movement. With the right support, and the right level of leadership, it may grow to thrive. Poland’s railways are facing the same cuts that Beeching imposed 50 years ago. Will Poland’s societies take over the mantle in the same way the UK’s preservationists did? Only time will tell.

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Three cheers for Prince Charles!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

hrh

HRH, The Prince of Wales, Zac Goldsmith and others at the launch of the Revolve Eco Rally at Hampton Court in June 2007.

(From a photo by RevOlvin, click to see original and details of licensing.)

Three cheers for the way The Prince of Wales responded to the D-Day crisis, and with scant regard for protocol, obtained an invitation from President Sarkozy to honour the British soldiers who gave their lives on the Normandy beaches. We have no private source of information whether the absence of an invitation to the Queen was the result of President Sarkozy’s determination to keep the commemoration an American-French affair or whether the cause was Gordon Brown’s wish not to be up-staged. In the event, Prince Charles’s performance was regal and dignified, in stark contrast to the political posturing going on elsewhere.

Prince Charles suffers from a hostile press which mocks his beliefs and regularly ignores the valuable work that he carries out through his charities such as The Prince’s Trust and PRIME. While some of this may mirror the drop in the Prince’s popularity following his disastrous marriage to Diana Spencer, and the manner of the Princess’s death, in fact the hostile press articles started well before his marriage got into difficulties. It difficult to escape the conclusion that the Prince’s espousal of causes such as organic farming, holistic medicine and traditional architecture has upset major vested interests who have manipulated the media in an attempt to clip the Prince’s wings and limit his influence.

tornado_trh

TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, with A1 Trust chairman, Mark Allat, looking on, name brand new Peppercorn A1 class pacific, Tornado, 19 February 2009.
Photo A1 Trust

For lovers of Britain’s railway and industrial heritage, the Prince plays a vital role as a national figurehead. He fills the space vacated by the death of stalwarts such as Sir John Betjeman and Fred Dibnah. These days, there’s scarcely an important heritage railway event which the Prince does not personally support, whether it is the reopening of the Severn Valley Railway after major flood damage, or the naming of the A1 Trust’s Peppercorn pacific Tornado. The Prince helps to provide public recognition of the amazing achievements of British railway enthusiasts. This recognition helps them with their negotiations with all the official bodies who have to be brought on side before a railway project can be nursed to its ultimate success.

We have it on very good authority that when Howard Jones was collecting his MBE, the Prince congratulated Howard on all the good work he was doing to preserve the Polish narrow gauge railways. Howard was understandably somewhat miffed because his amazing achievement was in persuading PKP to leave at Wolsztyn as the last steam shed in the world servicing standard gauge locos rostered for regular mainline passenger traffic. Perhaps, the Prince – a keen supporter of the Welsh narrow gauge – had in mind the extent to which Howard’s Wolsztyn Experience helps to cast an international spotlight on Poland’s minor railways as well?

In Poland the future of the country’s railway heritage hangs on a thin thread – the victim of a shock transition from communism to Latin-American style capitalism, Poland’s burgeoning bureaucracy, the lack of official recognition and absence of public support. Perhaps it may be unrealistic to hope that on his next visit to Poland the Prince might find time to visit Wolsztyn and travel on the footplate (or even drive!) one of the Ol49s on the Wolsztyn – Poznan turn and maybe even drop in to see the Smigiel Railway next door. Wishful thinking or not, in a country which lacks a powerful national advocate for its railway and industrial heritage, such recognition would give the Polish railway preservation movement the shot in the arm it desperately needs.

Dyspozytor

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TRH visit Severn Valley Railway

Saturday, 14 June 2008

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall unveil a plaque on arrival at Severn Valley Railway’s Kidderminster station terminus, 10 June 2008

(source: The Prince of Wales official website, click photo for picture in its original context.)

We wanted to run this story on Wednesday, but the rapidly changing situation regarding Wolsztyn’s scheduled steam turns meant it got held over till the weekend. I hope that all our readers, wherever they may be, will take inspiration from this wonderful piece of good news. D.

While storm clouds gather over over the future of Poland’s railway heritage, Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, visited the Severn Valley Railway on Tuesday 10 June, to help celebrate a remarkable recovery from storm damage another sort.

On 19 June 2007, in the space of just thirty minutes, the equivalent of two weeks rain fell along the Severn Valley, the rain continued day after day, with further heavy rainstorms taking place in July. When the storms abated, they left behind serious flood damage in the region and the railway was faced with the need to carry out repairs costing in the order of £3 million!

In no fewer than 45 separate locations between Bewdley and Bridgnorth, the ground had slipped or moved. The majority of these received attention from SVR’s own maintenance teams. However, in at least ten places, the damage was such that external contractors and heavy plant were required to restore the railway to its previous tip top condition. Now the work has been completed and the train service, which had been suspended on the worst damaged section of line, was fully restored again on 21 March 2008.

The closure of the railway had a negative impact upon the railway’s summer income, the tourist season of the towns that it served, and the regional economy as a whole. The railway launched an emergency appeal. The railway’s insurers paid out £500,000 for loss of revenue, Advantage West Midlands, recognizing the railway’s contribution to the local economy, paid out £750,000; the European Regional Development Fund is expected to contribute a similar sum. The Railway’s members and friends dug deep into their pockets. In a magnificent show of solidarity other preserved railways including including the Mid Hants Railway, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, the West Somerset Railway, the Avon Valley Railway, the Dean Forest Railway, the Great Central Railway, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the Bluebell Railway provided volunteers and loaned equipment.

Then the Prince came! The sun shone. The Severn Valley borrowed GWR 6024 “King Edward I” for the occasion from the Didcot Railway Centre and the Prince sent the royal train. The royal couple unveiled a commorative plaque at Kidderminster Station. Prince Charles bought two tickets and the royal couple boarded the train. This was the first occasion that the new royal train had travelled on a heritage railway or been pulled by a steam engine. At Bewdley the Prince visited the signal box and then boarded the footplate where he refreshed his engine driving skills which he had practised in 2003 on the Welsh Highland Railway.

The train stopped at Hampton Loade railway station where the royal couple met station master Steve Dockerty and long-time Severn Valley Railway members Bill and Muriel Bennett who have lived in the station house for more than 50 years. They then continued their journey on the line to Bridgnorth where they unveiled another plaque. The prince spoke briefly thanking everybody who had contributed to the restoration of the railway.

The royal couple’s visit gave the railway a great publicity after its recent bad fortune and was a great boost to the morale of its volunteers. If only those working to save Poland’s railway heritage could receive the same recognition from the President of Poland!

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